• According to the ONS, women reported feeling lonely more frequently than men. They were significantly more likely than men to report feeling lonely “often/always”, “some of the time” and “occasionally” and were much less likely than men to say they “never” felt lonely
  • While higher percentages of older women report loneliness compared to men, a greater number of older men (50+) report moderate to high levels of social isolation
  • 14% of older men experienced moderate to high social isolation compared to 11% of women[1]

Loneliness and men

In Independent Age and ILC’s report Isolation: the emerging crisis for older men used data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing as well as interviews to show the state of loneliness and isolation amongst older men. [2]

Their findings show that:

  • 2 million older men a moderate or high degree of social isolation
  • 700k men experience a high degree of loneliness
  • Older men are more isolated than older women
  • Older men have less contact than women with friends and family

It should be noted that this report shows that men are more isolated but report being less lonely than women. This may be because the definition of loneliness, being the connections we want vs those we have mean that men may be isolated but not feel lonely.

However, due to demographic changes, it means that the numbers of older men living alone by 2030 is projected to be 1.5 million, an increase of 65%, so loneliness is set to grow.

Also, the report showed that men are less likely to engage with projects that tackle loneliness.

What men value in groups

A qualitative study looked at men’s experiences of loneliness and singled out a list of qualities that men value in groups.[3] They were:

  • Men valued groups that tried to increase social opportunities and interaction.
  • Groups of mixed ages were strongly preferred by both heterosexual and gay men, as they did not want to be siloed in groups for ‘older people’. Mixed-generational groups that included younger adults were preferred.
  • Men valued groups that facilitated emotional and social ties with other men.
  • For straight men this was commonly associated with male companionship and the enjoyment of male banter and opportunities.
  • For gay men this was often associated with a sense of belonging gained from being in the

company of other gay men with similar life-experiences.

How notions of masculinity might influence loneliness

Eisler and Blalock (1991) found that adherence to masculine values resulted in gender role stress which led to unhealthy or dysfunctional coping behaviour. Therefore, strong commitment to masculine gender role cognitive schema may restrict certain types of coping strategies available to men in particular situations. That is, they may not be able to express their desires for emotional support during stressful situations. This finding correlates to the often stated finding that more women report being lonely but it is hypothesised that women are more willing to admit loneliness than men.

For instance, Eisler and Blalock found that men are less likely to seek counselling because self-disclosure of one’s vulnerabilities is not sanctioned by masculine ideology. Emotional inexpressiveness was also a trait the report highlighted. The authors believe that the concept requiring men to inhibit emotional expression results in the frequent appraisal of certain types of interpersonal situations as stressful and restricts the range of coping behaviours available to them. In addition, lack of appropriate self-disclosure may contribute to men’s vulnerability. Furthermore, men although they are not less likely to experience emotions such as anger, fear, joy and sadness are less likely to express them.

Another finding showed the different values men and women placed on relationships with men valuing the instrumental aspects of friendship such as shared activities and interests whereas women value more affective elements such as mutual understanding, closeness and intimacy. Therefore, women’s relationships are more likely to be supportive of each other because of the gender differences of the objectives of their relationships.

[1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/lonelinesswhatcharacteristicsandcircumstancesareassociatedwithfeelinglonely/2018-04-10

[2] Beach, B. and Bamford, S.M., 2014. Isolation: The emerging crisis for older men. A Report Exploring Experiences of Social Isolation and Loneliness Among Older Men in England, Independent Age, London

[3] Willis et al. ‘Addressing older men’s experiences of loneliness and social isolation in later life.’ Policy Report 51: April 2019. University of Bristol.